· 15 min read

Structuring My Trello for Maximum Personal Productivity

A look at Board Structure, Card Structure and Dashboard Board that Help me Stay Organized

A look at Board Structure, Card Structure and Dashboard Board that Help me Stay Organized

Trello is a simple Kanban tool I use to organize my life. It helps me:

  • Clarity: gain clarity of what I want to do and how to do it
  • Responsibility: help me do it to my best quality I can produce
  • Optimism: help me be happy, less stressed, avoid burnout and maintain a history of things I have done.
  • Flow: get out of my way to that I can life life (🔗 TODO: Link to Flow Blogpost)

I think of trello as a efficient production line that can help organize almost anything and get it done step by step. And I use it for almost everything from blogpost production, travel inventory, goals, learning, and even tracking psychological/inner child work.

If you are new to Trello, I recommend you watch a video and create a simple Trello board before reading this post.

You don’t need to implement everything I suggest,

  • keep things simple and scale if you need
  • and when you don’t need scale down the system and make it simpler.
  • aim for achieving balance.

Optimizing Trello for Maximum Productivity

Trello/Kanban can scale to our needs. If you are getting started a simple setup maybe enough. But as time passes, and you get more productive, you’ll find you need to [optimize your system for scale] (🔗 TODO: Link To Post) else the system starts choking.

Here are a few things I’ve done to optimize my Trello system:

  • Board Structure: A well-organized board helps me focus on what needs to be done right now and ensures I complete tasks fully.
  • Card Structure: Capturing all necessary information in the card helps me execute tasks to the best of my ability.
  • Dashboard Board: This board provides an overview of all tasks across multiple boards, helping me prioritize what’s important.

By following these steps and continuously refining your system, you’ll be able to maintain high productivity and stay organized.

Board

Board Structure

The goal of a good board structure is to help you be extremely organized and help you in what to do next.

The basic Trello structure includes the following columns:

  • To Do
  • Doing
  • Done

I enhance column by splitting it into multiple columns. But this I only do when the number of cards increase. If the number of cards are less, I’ll again switch back to less number of columns.

Enhancing the “To Do” Column

Instead of having a single “To Do” column, consider splitting it into multiple columns to better prioritize tasks:

  • This Week: Tasks you aim to complete this week. Initially, this column can help focus your efforts. As you refine your system, you may rely on it less.
  • Future Planning Columns: Use multiple columns to prioritize upcoming tasks. This helps keep your current focus clear and your future tasks organized.

I organize my Trello board with the left section focused on current tasks and the right section for future planning and knowledge units. Here’s a breakdown of how I manage future planning columns based on different domains:

Example: Blogging Board

  • Needs Organization: Ideas that need to be sorted and structured.
  • Needs Refinement: Developed ideas that require further refinement.
  • Ready for Production: Fully developed ideas ready to be executed.

When it’s time to write a blog post, I simply pick a task from the “Ready for Production” column.

Example: Travel Board

My goal is to travel India and in next few years start my world tour. Also there are something that are not travel related.

So broadly I have these sets:

  • Non-Travel
  • World Tour: Columns for planning an international trip.
  • India: Columns for domestic travel plans.

World Tour

Bharat

Tip: Using the MoSCoW Method

If you’re unsure how to categorize tasks in a new domain, try the MoSCoW method:

  • Must Do: Essential tasks that need immediate attention.
  • Should Do: Important tasks that should be done but are not critical.
  • Can Do: Tasks that are nice to do but not urgent.
  • Won’t Do: Tasks that are not necessary or relevant at the moment.

By customizing columns based on the specific domain, I can prioritize and manage tasks more effectively.

How I pick tasks?

My philosopy is roughly based on Eisenhower matrix:

  • Urgent & Important Tasks: Given immediate attention, these tasks impact my goals or responsibilities significantly.
  • Non-urgent Important Tasks: Despite being non-urgent, these are crucial for long-term success, reducing future emergencies and smaller tasks.

I try to give highest priority to non-urgent and important as they eliminate smaller tasks and help me be ahead. Some example of such tasks are:

  • Reading: A book like Design Patterns which will help me understand all of software
  • Implementing: A new technique/organization tips like this Trello system which helped me stay extrement organized
  • Setting up my financial flywheel: So that I can have enough money to do what’s meaningful.
  • Psychological work: That helped me be less stressed and improve my day to day well-being.
  • Communication skills So that I can have clear thoughts, happier times with people and better opportunities.

Doing these tasks properly frees up more time in the future.

Example: Self-Help Videos

  • I used to have many self-help videos cards on social skills and communication. Post-therapy, I deleted many of them, freeing up time and mental RAM.
  • Similarly, after studying the Bhagavad Gita, I deleted about 40 related tasks, streamlining my workload.

Essentially, you want to solve the root of the problem. Once solved fully, it’ll eliminate all the other problems.

Enhancing the “Doing” Column

A single doing column doesn’t indicate how much you have progressed on a task. It’s better to have multiple columns.

Initially, I used percentage completions (10% complete, 50% complete, …), but it was challenging to measure progress accurately. It’s better to have a named stage.

As with “To Do” columns split, it’s better to develop it by domain.

Example: Blogging Board

  • Clarity
  • Writing / Recording
  • Self Proof Reading, Refinement and Review
  • SEO / Promotion / Content Marketing

Like with MosCow, my default for most boards is:

  • Planning and Research: Tasks start here, involving initial research and planning.
  • Learning / Doing: Active work on the task, including learning and execution.
  • Feedback and Debrief: Review and gather feedback to refine the task.

Example: Fitness Board

  • Planning, Intellectual Learning and Physical Learning
  • Repetition and Sets
  • Feedback, Recording, and Debrief: What went well? What can be improved? Improve it / Learn

This way, I know exactly what stage each task is in and what needs to be done next.

Enhancing the “Done” Column

Completing a task often isn’t as straightforward as marking it “done.” We want to:

  • maximize the outcome we get from a task
  • ensure we complete it fully (nothing left.)

One of the characteristics of Narendra Modi is he follows through until the end. He would make sure he is monitoring things fully. And that is what we need to do to, we have to make sure all tasks are done till the end.

Here are a few columns I have divided “Done” into.

  • Debrief
  • Chained Tasks
  • Freezed / Auto Pilot
  • Closed / X Ledger

Debrif Column

The first step in optimizing learning after a task is to do a quick debrief.

Before Done I have a debrief column where I ask myself:

  • What went well? (Written in the comment)
  • What can be improved? (Written in the Debrief Tasks Checklist)

This way, I have captured my learning with the task which will enhance my future work.

If there are “Debrief Tasks” I’ll more the card to “Chained Tasks” Columns

Chained Tasks

Chained Tasks means: “This task is complete, but there are other tasks that got created because of this task that are yet complete. So we can’t mark this task as fully complete.”

It’s important to track these chained tasks to ensure nothing remains undone and everything is followed through to the end.

Example: Blogpost

In many of my blogposts including this once, you’ll see 🔗 TODO written. These are blogpost ideas I have related to the post I am currently writing. If a post I write has TODOs, I’ll move it to “Chained Tasks” column. And they’ll stay in Chained Tasks until All other Chained Tasks are Complete.

To manage chained tasks, I use a three-fold system:

  • Chained Column on the Board: A dedicated column to track all chained tasks.
  • Checklist for Chained Tasks: A checklist within the main task card to list all related subtasks.
  • Chained Label: A label to easily identify and filter chained tasks across the board.

This system ensures that all tasks are completed fully and thoroughly, following through every detail until the end.

Frozen / Delegated

Sometimes,

  • tasks are completed but need to be revisited later.
  • Or while doing a task, you realize that the problem will autofix in a few days.
  • Or you have delegated the task to someone else.

For such tasks, I use the “Frozen / Delegated” column. This helps in keeping track of tasks that are on hold but still need attention.

Closed

This is a simple column that denotes the task is done a task fully and closed. Meaning I don’t have to do anything more on this.

Closed column gives me confidence on my productivity. And there it also has a subname: A Complete Ledger.

Example of Closed Column on different boards

  • Life Board: “Closed / Karma Ledger”
  • Travel Board: “Closed / Interesting Life Ledger”
  • Blogging Board: “Closed / Thought Clarity Ledger”

Naming it this way has been helpful to me. (🔗 TODO: Blogpost on important of naming on human behavior)

Summarizing Enhancing the “Done” Column

By organizing the “Done” column into specific categories and maintaining a detailed system for chained tasks, you can ensure comprehensive task management and continuous improvement. And ensure nothing goes out of your mind.

Enhancing Knowledge Capture (Unfinished Idea: 🔗 TODO: Improve this aspect then write about it)

I don’t have a very good insight into capturing long term ideas. For example, if I learnt something that I want to acess later.

There are some fundamental knowledge about any domain that are long term and that you would like to he reminded of.

For this, I have added column with such information.

For example my “Finance Flyway” board has these columns at the right

  • Monthly Spending: A card per month for monthly spending
  • Money Goals: All my financial goals regarding money.
  • Money Formulas: Things like 50:30:20. Rule of 72 etc.
  • Money Mindset: Repair over Buy. Protect Electronics. Think of Money as Value.
  • Trusted Entities: Companies and People I trust
  • Bad Entities: Companies and People I can’t trust financially or maybe even personally.

I have more such columns in Finance Flyway. Software Development board also has multiple such columns related to different types of Technology (AWS, Astro, Java, Java Multithreading, etc) Other domains have less.

Read:

“Command Center / Dashboard” Board

As I created multiple boards, I realized I would focus on one area and not the other. I wanted a way to look at multiple boards at once and do what’s important in all of them. Which led me to creation of “Command Center / Dashboard” Board.

The “Command Center / Dashboard” Board allows me to:

  • Manage multiple boards at once
  • Manage my focus on long term goals
  • Track this weeks work via Weekly cards.
  • Contain an weekly inbox card which helps me keep my other boards clean.
  • Help me reduce overall number of cards.

It has the following columns:

  • Definely do this week: Dashcards of varios boards that I need to get done this week
  • Sets / Reps: Split into parts
  • Done for the week
  • Global Card Count: Dashcards for total count on a board
  • Plans / Goals: Multi Year Plans

I often will purge cards from boards if they are too many.

Example: Purging Cards from Blog Board

  • I had too many random ideas in my Blog Board and it was very hard to manage.
  • When I added the dashcard to count it, it denoted 480+ ideas. This was too much and I had to purge.
  • Over a few iteretions I purged it down to 94 currently. This is much easier to manage.

I now use the comments section ot see my purge progress:


Cards

Cards are equivalent to tasks for Trello.

I use cards to,

  • create checklist for
    • making sure card is created perfectly (S.M.A.R.T and Small)
    • breaking down tasks into 30 minute chunks
    • track chained tasks (Tasks that got created because of current task)
    • debrief tasks
    • chatgpt prompts that can help me be better
  • comments section for all details including
    • writing notes on thing I am learning
    • writing drafts of blogposts
    • status/progress of the card if it has been on hold for months
    • debrief of what went well what can be improved
    • any other informtion
  • and have attachments for any information I need for doing the task of for future reference including
    • images
    • website links
    • documents
    • procedures
    • link to other cards

This way, once I open a card, I know exactly what to do and I can refer the card in the future if I need to know how I did something.

Card Structure

Trello allows creation of templates for cards. I do have multiple card templates but recently I am trying to unify them into one. You want to keep the number of template low, similar and simple because they can quickly get overwhelming.

I may have around 1-2 template per board with most including the following checklist:

  • 🗑️ Categorize this ticket & Delete Me: Assign Labels When Card is Created. I’ll delete this checklist once labels are added.
  • 🗑️ Make this SMART/TDD & Delete Me: I’ll use this checklist when I decide to work on the task. As part of this I’ll make this ticket specific, measureable etc by breaking it down properly and assigning a due data.
  • ☕️ Waiting for: This includes things that I am waiting for. Could be dependencies on people or on other cards.
  • 🚀 Breakdown / Checklist to 30 min tasks: So that I can do it as pomodoros
  • 🔗 Chained Tasks: Additional tasks related to this one.
  • 📝 Debrief: What went well? What can be improved? How?: Any improvements I need to do?

The top two portion is just for planning and can be deleted.

(The below image was taken before adding ‘☕️ Waiting For’)

I also have started incorporating ChatGPT Templates into Checklists and other relevant links in my checklists.

Example: Blogpost Template

  • Blogpost Template Contains:
    • Pre-Writing JotForm
    • A ChatGPT Prompt to Help Generate YouTube Shorts from the blogpost
    • Post Writing JotForm

[🔗 TODO: Add More ChatGPT Prompts] https://chat.openai.com/?model=gpt-4&q=Your+prompt+goes+here

Breaking down Big Cards into Smaller Specific Cards

To tackle large tasks effectively, breaking them down into smaller, achievable tasks is essential.

Example: Launching a New Website Consider the task of launching a new website. This can be broken down into several specific steps:

  • Learning about website launches
  • Signing up for a hosting service
  • Defining the content
  • Writing the content
  • Designing the layout
  • Testing the website
  • Promoting the launch

Benefits of Breaking Down Tasks

By breaking down a big task into smaller steps, you can:

  • Improve Clarity: Understand the task better and identify specific actions needed.
  • Enhance Manageability: Make the task less overwhelming and more achievable.
  • Boost Motivation: Experience a sense of accomplishment as you complete smaller tasks.

How to Break Down Tasks in Trello

In Trello, you can break down tasks in two primary ways:

  • Cards: Create individual cards for each sub-task. This is especially useful for tasks that span multiple weeks or months.
  • Checklists: Use checklists within cards for more detailed breakdowns. This is ideal for complex tasks that have many smaller components.

Usually, if I have a task which is multiple months, I’ll break it down into a bunch of smaller cards that I can take action on in about a week.

And for checklist it depends, I may not may not use checklist if the task itself it small. But if a task get’s complex, I’ll break it down to checklists.

Optional: Creating More Boards

I realized that more boards makes Trello really overwhelming. But by not having more boards, I was really missing out on productivity gains.

  • Good planning
  • Ultimately getting progress

I figured out there is no other way, I need to create more boards.

The way I did it was much more organic. I experimented with a few boards. And also deleted a few, for example, I realized Job board wasn’t super useful for me because 90% of recruiters ghost and rest reply super late after a month or two. ⏰ . The cards on my Job Search board would remain stale.

So instead I started tracking only when I had passed the initial screening and was giving online tests.

Initially, I also had writing and all other tasks mixed into one board. This made it very overwhelming.

I started by separating Life and Writing. ✍️

Then I realized I need something for Development so I created one called DevLife.

These remained my main boards.

Later, I realized I needed ways to improve my health, so I started Body Board.

Then I thought I should also do things in life. I being someone who doesn’t go out much. I think It’ll be good to get out. Maybe watch shows etc. so I created Experiences board.

Tip is this: anything that is important to you, should be part of trello. If it’s small you can keep less number of boards. But as you get more interested, you’ll find it’s better to split into a separate board.

Note depending on the domain, the speed at which cards move changes.

For example, Travel board tasks will be added over months but will be completed in a week when you actually go to travel. Most of the year you’ll spend time planning your travel.

Similarly, Body board will have a lot of goals that take time

Finance Stories usually move faster. Finanial goal achievement is slower over months.

Etc etc. This gives you a satisfaction. You know everything is undercontrol and moving.

Optional: Keeping Board Interesting to Use

To make your board interesting to use:

  • Change the background image to something you like.
  • Add images to cards, especially goal cards.
  • Use Dash-cards, a Trello power-up, to show quick counts of items in lists or based on certain criteria.
  • Changing names of columns and boards:
    • Keep updating names iteratively to give a new perspective on the board.

Example: My finance board had names like “Money,” “Paisa,” “How money works,” “Finance,” and currently “Finance Flyway”

However, as you get more productive it’s better to enhance each column by breaking each into multiple columns.


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